Discoveries Magazine

Cedars-Sinai

Nano Giant

Illustration: Greg Clarke

With its more than 37 trillion cells, the human body can be a challenging — and even hostile — territory for medicines to navigate. However, advances in nanomedicine — which uses materials measured in terms of the nanometer, one-billionth of a meter — are enabling physician-scientists to target and deliver therapy to the precise cells that need it. At Cedars-Sinai, Biomedical Sciences Associate Professor Lali Medina-Kauwe, PhD, and her team are expanding the field’s potential by employing molecular-level treatments to act like Trojan horses of healing, sneaking past the body’s defenses to attack cancer and other diseases. It turns out that nanomedicine shares other characteristics with the Trojan horse legend as well. Here’s a handy chart to help you compare the two.

Nanomedicine Trojan Horse
Origin Hypothesized by Nobel-winner Richard Feynman in 1959 — but a shout-out to the movie Fantastic Voyage and other tales that fed future physician-scientists’ imaginations Prince Paris’ abduction of Queen Helen of Sparta, later known as “Helen of Troy,” sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries BC
Purpose Combats invading diseases while leaving healthy cells unharmed Used to invade Troy, harming just about everyone there
Approach Medina-Kauwe adds a peptide sequence to the protein that recognizes tumor cells and unlocks them for medical delivery. Delivered when the Trojans brought in the giant horse, conned into believing that their enemies had sailed off and left the structure behind as a victory tribute
Contents Precision nanodrugs that bind to targeted cells Up to 40 soldiers
Materials Proteins and other nontoxic, biodegradable substances Wood, possibly covered in horsehide
Resistance Can overcome drug resistance built up against other treatments Overcame Troy’s resistance by attacking while the city’s soldiers slept
Timing Drugs stay in place long enough to heal cells, reducing the need for repeated treatments. The Greek soldiers stayed in place until nightfall, then attacked their sleeping opponents.
Animal Models Employed to test effectiveness compared to standard treatment methods Instead of a horse, King Arthur’s knights built a giant rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but neglected to get inside it before the model was taken in.
Responsible For New frontiers in medicine that will save and enhance countless lives The phrase “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”
Nanomedicine Trojan Horse
Origin
Hypothesized by Nobel-winner Richard Feynman in 1959 — but a shout-out to the movie Fantastic Voyage and other tales that fed future physician-scientists’ imaginations Prince Paris’ abduction of Queen Helen of Sparta, later known as “Helen of Troy,” sometime between the 11th and 12th centuries BC
Purpose
Combats invading diseases while leaving healthy cells unharmed Used to invade Troy, harming just about everyone there
Approach
Medina-Kauwe adds a peptide sequence to the protein that recognizes tumor cells and unlocks them for medical delivery. Delivered when the Trojans brought in the giant horse, conned into believing that their enemies had sailed off and left the structure behind as a victory tribute
Contents
Precision nanodrugs that bind to targeted cells Up to 40 soldiers
Materials
Proteins and other nontoxic, biodegradable substances Wood, possibly covered in horsehide
Resistance
Can overcome drug resistance built up against other treatments Overcame Troy’s resistance by attacking while the city’s soldiers slept
Timing
Drugs stay in place long enough to heal cells, reducing the need for repeated treatments. The Greek soldiers stayed in place until nightfall, then attacked their sleeping opponents.
Animal Models
Employed to test effectiveness compared to standard treatment methods Instead of a horse, King Arthur’s knights built a giant rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail — but neglected to get inside it before the model was taken in.
Responsible For
New frontiers in medicine that will save and enhance countless lives The phrase “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”
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